New $36 million FHLBank Topeka building represents commitment to Topeka

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Limestone, windows with sweeping views and a glass waterfall are features of the new Federal Home Loan Bank building that greets Interstate 70 drivers at the west edge of Topeka.

The $36 million building was designed to complement its natural surroundings, grabbing colors and form from the Midwestern sky, limestone found in Onaga and, as the landscape fills out, waves of prairie grass.

“We wanted it to fit into the surroundings, so we went with what they called a prairie style with the roof lines,” said Mark Yardley, president and CEO. “The limestone and the look of the outside — to me, it says Kansas.”

On Thursday, a ribbon-cutting celebrated the new home of FHLBank, which previously was located across the road at the Security Benefit building, and the company’s decision to stay in Topeka.

“I want to say thank you, yet again, because they could have gone anywhere else,” said Mayor Michelle De La Isla. “They chose Topeka.”

Yardley said the FHLBank Topeka is one of the few Federal Home Loan Banks, set up by the federal government in 1932 after the Depression to encourage mortgage lending and community investment, to remain in the city where it was originally located. Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership, pointed out that other FHLBs are located in much larger communities, including New York City, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco.

“Our roots run deep here in Topeka,” Yardley said. “We are committed to Topeka. But it’s also evident that Topeka, Shawnee County, is committed to us. As soon as we started talking about looking at alternate locations, they stepped forward and said ‘we really want you to stay.’ It was nice to be appreciated as a corporate citizen, as a valued player for the city of Topeka. It made our decision a lot easier.”

The result of that decision is a 95,000-square-foot building with modern amenities and style, home to FHLBank Topeka’s 240 employees and serving 750 members. The three-story building and basement feature a gym, cafeteria, coffee bars, collaboration spaces that offer meeting space for groups of many sizes, and natural lighting.

• Energy-efficient building includes geothermal and solar panels, with a goal of achieving a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification

• 96 geothermal wells at 12,400 feet deep use about 11,000 gallons of water to heat, cool and support the building

The building’s western Topeka hillside perch was a key design element for its exterior, creating a focus that emphasized not only the location but also the fact that FHLBank works in the Midwest, serving Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado, Yardley said.

“What we really wanted was for the site and building to embody the sense of space,” said architect Greg Schwerdt, of Schwerdt Design. “We believe we accomplished that by blurring the boundaries between nature and architecture, which in turn heightens the awareness of the beauty that surrounds us.”

That same feel was a goal for the building’s interior design, which was coordinated by Julie DeVader, vice president of public relations and communications. She reached out to employees to gather opinions about what they would like to see in the building. That commitment to soliciting varied viewpoints makes the project special, said Sonia Betsworth, senior vice president and chief administration officer.

“We wanted them to believe the building was their home, and it was built with ideas that they also had,” she said.

Most of the ideas fell into the same pattern of thought, primarily because of the natural surroundings, DeVader said.

“When you see it, and you see all the nature, it’s hard to not include that in the design,” she said. “What we wanted people to feel when they came in is comfortable and warm. We call it prairie modern. We wanted to bring the outdoors in, what you see with all the glass. Really, the art is our beautiful views.”

Yardley’s third-floor office offers spectacular sunsets, he said.

Betsworth’s favorite part of the building is a feeling that has come with it.

“I’ve been at the bank for 35 years. Something that makes me the happiest is I think there’s a difference in our business partner culture,” she said. “The bank is more visible to the community than what it’s ever been before. I can see there’s a real sense of ownership and pride in not only what they do today, but in where we reside.”

The new FHLBank Topeka building incorporated the company and employees’ commitment to sustainability, and it is expected to receive a Gold LEED certification, the top standard for the green building rating system. It is heated and cooled by technologies that include geothermal and solar panels.

“It is 40 percent more efficient than the standard office building in our area,” said DeVader.

That translates to big numbers. Over the course of one year, a standard building would use 1.65 million kilowatt hours of electricity, and the new FHLBank building is expected to use 1 million kWh. The result, she said, is about $60,000 a year in savings.

The company worked primarily with local talent on the building, including Schwerdt Design as architect and McPherson Contractors as general contractor.

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